Michael Jeffrey Jordan (born February 17, 1963), also known by his initials MJ, is an American former professional basketball player and the principal owner of the Charlotte Hornets of the National Basketball Association (NBA). He played 15 seasons in the NBA, winning six championships with the Chicago Bulls. His biography on the official NBA website states: "By acclamation, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time." He was integral in helping to popularize the NBA around the world in the 1980s and 1990s, becoming a global cultural icon in the process.
Jordan played college basketball for three seasons under coach Dean Smith with the North Carolina Tar Heels. As a freshman, he was a member of the Tar Heels' national championship team in 1982. Jordan joined the Bulls in 1984 as the third overall draft pick, and quickly emerged as a league star, entertaining crowds with his prolific scoring while gaining a reputation as one of the game's best defensive players. His leaping ability, demonstrated by performing slam dunks from the free throw line in Slam Dunk Contests, earned him the nicknames "Air Jordan" and "His Airness". Jordan won his first NBA championship with the Bulls in 1991, and followed that achievement with titles in 1992 and 1993, securing a "three-peat". Jordan abruptly retired from basketball before the 1993–94 NBA season to play Minor League Baseball, but returned to the Bulls in March 1995 and led them to three more championships in 1996, 1997, and 1998, as well as a then-record 72 regular-season wins in the 1995–96 NBA season. He retired for a second time in January 1999 but returned for two more NBA seasons from 2001 to 2003 as a member of the Washington Wizards.
One of the most effectively marketed athletes of his generation, Jordan is also known for his product endorsements. He fueled the success of Nike's Air Jordan sneakers, which were introduced in 1984 and remain popular today. Jordan also starred as himself in the 1996 film Space Jam. He became part-owner and head of basketball operations for the Charlotte Bobcats (now named the Hornets) in 2006, and bought a controlling interest in 2010. In 2014, Jordan became the first billionaire player in NBA history. With a net worth of $2.1 billion, he is the fourth-richest African American, behind Robert F. Smith, David Steward, and Oprah Winfrey.
Jordan going in for a slam dunk for the Laney High School varsity basketball team, 1979–80
Jordan's number 23 jersey among others in the rafters of the Dean Smith Center, pictured in May 2005
As a freshman in coach Dean Smith's team-oriented system, he was named ACC Freshman of the Year after he averaged 13.4 ppg on 53.4% shooting (field goal percentage). He made the game-winning jump shot in the 1982 NCAA Championship game against Georgetown, which was led by future NBA rival Patrick Ewing. Jordan later described this shot as the major turning point in his basketball career. During his three seasons with the Tar Heels, he averaged 17.7 ppg on 54.0% shooting, and added 5.0 rpg. He was selected by consensus to the NCAA All-American First Team in both his sophomore (1983) and junior (1984) seasons. After winning the Naismith and the Wooden College Player of the Year awards in 1984, Jordan left North Carolina one year before his scheduled graduation to enter the 1984 NBA draft. Jordan returned to North Carolina to complete his degree in 1986, when he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in geography.
Professional career Early NBA years (1984–1987)
The Chicago Bulls selected Jordan with the third overall pick of the 1984 NBA draft, after Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston Rockets) and Sam Bowie (Portland Trail Blazers). One of the primary reasons why Jordan was not drafted sooner was because the first two teams were in need of a center. However, Trail Blazers general manager Stu Inman contended that it was not a matter of drafting a center, but more a matter of taking Sam Bowie over Jordan, in part because Portland already had Clyde Drexler, who was a guard with similar skills to Jordan.ESPN, citing Bowie's injury-laden college career, named the Blazers' choice of Bowie as the worst draft pick in North American professional sports history.
During his rookie season with the Bulls, Jordan averaged 28.2 ppg on 51.5% shooting, and helped make a team that had won 35% of games in the previous three seasons playoff contenders. He quickly became a fan favorite even in opposing arenas. Roy S. Johnson of The New York Times described him as "the phenomenal rookie of the Bulls" in November, and Jordan appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the heading "A Star Is Born" in December. The fans also voted in Jordan as an All-Star starter during his rookie season. Controversy arose before the All-Star game when word surfaced that several veteran players—led by Isiah Thomas—were upset by the amount of attention Jordan was receiving. This led to a so-called "freeze-out" on Jordan, where players refused to pass the ball to him throughout the game. The controversy left Jordan relatively unaffected when he returned to regular season play, and he would go on to be voted Rookie of the Year. The Bulls finished the season 38–44 and lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in four games in the first round of the playoffs.
Jordan's second season was cut short when he broke his foot in the third game of the year, causing him to miss 64 games. The Bulls made the playoffs despite Jordan's injury and a 30–52 record, at the time the fifth worst record of any team to qualify for the playoffs in NBA history. Jordan recovered in time to participate in the postseason and performed well upon his return. Against a 1985–86 Boston Celtics team that is often considered one of the greatest in NBA history, Jordan set the still-unbroken record for points in a playoff game with 63 in Game 2. The Celtics, however, managed to sweep the series.
Jordan had completely recovered in time for the 1986–87 season, and he had one of the most prolific scoring seasons in NBA history. He became the only player other than Wilt Chamberlain to score 3,000 points in a season, averaging a league high 37.1 points on 48.2% shooting. In addition, Jordan demonstrated his defensive prowess, as he became the first player in NBA history to record 200 steals and 100 blocked shots in a season. Despite Jordan's success, Magic Johnson won the league's Most Valuable Player Award. The Bulls reached 40 wins, and advanced to the playoffs for the third consecutive year. However, they were again swept by the Celtics.
Pistons roadblock (1987–1990)
Jordan (center) in 1987
Jordan again led the league in scoring during the 1987–88 season, averaging 35.0 ppg on 53.5% shooting and won his first league MVP Award. He was also named the Defensive Player of the Year, as he had averaged 1.6 blocks and a league high 3.16 steals per game. The Bulls finished 50–32, and made it out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time in Jordan's career, as they defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in five games. However, the Bulls then lost in five games to the more experienced Detroit Pistons, who were led by Isiah Thomas and a group of physical players known as the "Bad Boys".
The Bulls entered the 1989–90 season as a team on the rise, with their core group of Jordan and young improving players like Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, and under the guidance of new coach Phil Jackson. On March 28, 1990, Jordan scored a career-high 69 points in a 117–113 road win over the Cavaliers. He averaged a league leading 33.6 ppg on 52.6% shooting, to go with 6.9 rpg and 6.3 apg in leading the Bulls to a 55–27 record. They again advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals after beating the Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers. However, despite pushing the series to seven games, the Bulls lost to the Pistons for the third consecutive season.
First three-peat (1991–1993)
In the 1990–91 season, Jordan won his second MVP award after averaging 31.5 ppg on 53.9% shooting, 6.0 rpg, and 5.5 apg for the regular season. The Bulls finished in first place in their division for the first time in 16 years and set a franchise record with 61 wins in the regular season. With Scottie Pippen developing into an All-Star, the Bulls had elevated their play. The Bulls defeated the New York Knicks and the Philadelphia 76ers in the opening two rounds of the playoffs. They advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals where their rival, the Detroit Pistons, awaited them. However, this time the Bulls beat the Pistons in a four-game sweep.
The Bulls advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history to face the Los Angeles Lakers, who had Magic Johnson and James Worthy, two formidable opponents. The Bulls won the series four games to one, and compiled a 15–2 playoff record along the way. Perhaps the best known moment of the series came in Game 2 when, attempting a dunk, Jordan avoided a potential Sam Perkins block by switching the ball from his right hand to his left in mid-air to lay the shot into the basket. In his first Finals appearance, Jordan posted per game averages of 31.2 points on 56% shooting from the field, 11.4 assists, 6.6 rebounds, 2.8 steals, and 1.4 blocks. Jordan won his first NBA Finals MVP award, and he cried while holding the NBA Finals trophy.
Jordan and the Bulls continued their dominance in the 1991–92 season, establishing a 67–15 record, topping their franchise record from 1990–91. Jordan won his second consecutive MVP award with averages of 30.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game on 52% shooting. After winning a physical 7-game series over the New York Knicks in the second round of the playoffs and finishing off the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Conference Finals in 6 games, the Bulls met Clyde Drexler and the Portland Trail Blazers in the Finals. The media, hoping to recreate a Magic–Bird rivalry, highlighted the similarities between "Air" Jordan and Clyde "The Glide" during the pre-Finals hype. In the first game, Jordan scored a Finals-record 35 points in the first half, including a record-setting six three-point field goals. After the sixth three-pointer, he jogged down the court shrugging as he looked courtside. Marv Albert, who broadcast the game, later stated that it was as if Jordan was saying, "I can't believe I'm doing this." The Bulls went on to win Game 1, and defeat the Blazers in six games. Jordan was named Finals MVP for the second year in a row and finished the series averaging 35.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, and 6.5 apg, while shooting 53% from the floor.
In the 1992–93 season, despite a 32.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg, and 5.5 apg campaign and a second-place finish in Defensive Player of the Year voting, Jordan's streak of consecutive MVP seasons ended as he lost the award to his friend Charles Barkley. Coincidentally, Jordan and the Bulls met Barkley and his Phoenix Suns in the 1993 NBA Finals. The Bulls won their third NBA championship on a game-winning shot by John Paxson and a last-second block by Horace Grant, but Jordan was once again Chicago's leader. He averaged a Finals-record 41.0 ppg during the six-game series, and became the first player in NBA history to win three straight Finals MVP awards. He scored more than 30 points in every game of the series, including 40 or more points in 4 consecutive games. With his third Finals triumph, Jordan capped off a seven-year run where he attained seven scoring titles and three championships, but there were signs that Jordan was tiring of his massive celebrity and all of the non-basketball hassles in his life.
In 2005, Jordan discussed his gambling with Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes and admitted that he made reckless decisions. Jordan stated, "Yeah, I've gotten myself into situations where I would not walk away and I've pushed the envelope. Is that compulsive? Yeah, it depends on how you look at it. If you're willing to jeopardize your livelihood and your family, then yeah". When Bradley asked him if his gambling ever got to the level where it jeopardized his livelihood or family, Jordan replied, "No". In 2010 Ron Shelton, director of Jordan Rides the Bus, said that he began working on the documentary believing that the NBA had suspended him, but that research "convinced [him it] was nonsense".
First retirement and stint in Minor League Baseball (1993–1994)
On October 6, 1993, Jordan announced his retirement, saying that he had lost his desire to play basketball. Jordan later said that the death of his father three months earlier had helped shape his decision. James Jordan was murdered on July 23, 1993, at a highway rest area in Lumberton, North Carolina, by two teenagers, Daniel Green and Larry Martin Demery, who carjacked his Lexus bearing the license plate "UNC 0023". His body, dumped in a South Carolina swamp, was not discovered until August 3. Green and Demery were found after they made calls on James Jordan's cell phone, convicted at trial, and sentenced to life in prison. Jordan was close to his father; as a child he had imitated the way his father stuck out his tongue while absorbed in work. He later adopted it as his own signature, often displaying it as he drove to the basket. In 1996, he founded a Chicago-area Boys & Girls Club and dedicated it to his father.
In his 1998 autobiography For the Love of the Game, Jordan wrote that he had been preparing for retirement as early as the summer of 1992. The added exhaustion due to the Dream Team run in the 1992 Olympics solidified Jordan's feelings about the game and his ever-growing celebrity status. Jordan's announcement sent shock waves throughout the NBA and appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the world.
"I'm back": Return to the NBA (1995)
In the 1993–94 season, the Bulls achieved a 55–27 record without Jordan in the lineup, and lost to the New York Knicks in the second round of the playoffs. The 1994–95 Bulls were a shell of the championship team of just two years earlier. Struggling at mid-season to ensure a spot in the playoffs, Chicago was 31–31 at one point in mid-March. The team received help, however, when Jordan decided to return to the Bulls.
In March 1995, Jordan decided to quit baseball because he feared he might become a replacement player during the Major League Baseball strike. On March 18, 1995, Jordan announced his return to the NBA through a two-word press release: "I'm back." The next day, Jordan took to the court with the Bulls to face the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis, scoring 19 points. The game had the highest Nielsen rating of any regular season NBA game since 1975. Although he could have worn his normal number even though the Bulls retired it, Jordan wore number 45, his baseball number.
Despite his 18-month hiatus from the NBA, Jordan played well, making a game-winning jump shot against Atlanta in his fourth game back. He scored 55 points in his next game, against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on March 28, 1995. Boosted by Jordan's comeback, the Bulls went 13–4 to make the playoffs and advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Orlando Magic. At the end of Game 1, Orlando's Nick Anderson stripped Jordan from behind, leading to the game-winning basket for the Magic; he would later comment that Jordan "didn't look like the old Michael Jordan" and that "No. 45 doesn't explode like No. 23 used to."
Jordan responded by scoring 38 points in the next game, which Chicago won. Before the game, Jordan decided that he would immediately resume wearing his former number, 23. The Bulls were fined $25,000 for failing to report the impromptu number change to the NBA. Jordan was fined an additional $5,000 for opting to wear white sneakers when the rest of the Bulls wore black. He averaged 31 points per game in the series, but Orlando won the series in six games.
Second three-peat (1995–1998)
Jordan was freshly motivated by the playoff defeat, and he trained aggressively for the 1995–96 season. The Bulls were strengthened by the addition of rebound specialist Dennis Rodman, and the team dominated the league, starting the season at 41–3. The Bulls eventually finished with the best regular season record in NBA history, 72–10, a mark broken two decades later by the 2015–16 Golden State Warriors. Jordan led the league in scoring with 30.4 ppg and won the league's regular-season and All-Star Game MVP awards.
In the 1996–97 season, the Bulls started out 69–11, but missed out on a second consecutive 70-win season by losing their final two games to finish 69–13. However, Jordan was beaten for the NBA MVP Award by Karl Malone. The Bulls again advanced to the Finals, where they faced Malone's Utah Jazz. The series against the Jazz featured two of the more memorable clutch moments of Jordan's career. He won Game 1 for the Bulls with a buzzer-beating jump shot. In Game 5, with the series tied at 2, Jordan played despite being feverish and dehydrated from a stomach virus. In what is known as the "Flu Game", Jordan scored 38 points, including the game-deciding 3-pointer with 25 seconds remaining. The Bulls won 90–88 and went on to win the series in six games. For the fifth time in as many Finals appearances, Jordan received the Finals MVP award. During the 1997 NBA All-Star Game, Jordan posted the first triple double in All-Star Game history in a victorious effort; however, he did not receive the MVP award.
Jordan with coach Phil Jackson, 1997
Jordan and the Bulls compiled a 62–20 record in the 1997–98 season. Jordan led the league with 28.7 points per game, securing his fifth regular-season MVP award, plus honors for All-NBA First Team, First Defensive Team and the All-Star Game MVP. The Bulls won the Eastern Conference Championship for a third straight season, including surviving a seven-game series with the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals; it was the first time Jordan had played in a Game 7 since the 1992 Eastern Conference Semifinals with the Knicks. After winning, they moved on for a rematch with the Jazz in the Finals.
The Bulls returned to the Delta Center for Game 6 on June 14, 1998, leading the series 3–2. Jordan executed a series of plays, considered to be one of the greatest clutch performances in NBA Finals history. With 41.9 seconds remaining and the Bulls trailing 86–83, Phil Jackson called a timeout. When play resumed, Jordan received the inbound pass, drove to the basket, and sank a shot over several Jazz defenders, cutting Utah's lead to 86–85. The Jazz brought the ball upcourt and passed the ball to Malone, who was set up in the low post and was being guarded by Rodman. Malone jostled with Rodman and caught the pass, but Jordan cut behind him and stole the ball out of his hands. Jordan then dribbled down the court and paused, eyeing his defender, Jazz guard Bryon Russell. With 10 seconds remaining, Jordan started to dribble right, then crossed over to his left, possibly pushing off Russell, although the officials did not call a foul. With 5.2 seconds left, Jordan made the climactic shot of his Bulls career. He gave Chicago an 87–86 lead with a jumper over Russell. Afterwards, the Jazz' John Stockton narrowly missed a game-winning three-pointer. The buzzer sounded, and Jordan and the Bulls won their sixth NBA championship, achieving a second three-peat in the decade. Once again, Jordan was voted Finals MVP, having led all scorers by averaging 33.5 points per game, including 45 in the deciding Game 6. Jordan's six Finals MVPs is a record; LeBron James is in second place with four. The 1998 Finals holds the highest television rating of any Finals series in history. Game 6 also holds the highest television rating of any game in NBA history.